We may not be able to get our hands in the dirt quite yet this year, but we can still prepare for a busy gardening season ahead. Maintaining your gardening tools is such an important task, but it often gets overlooked. We get it — after a long day of toiling away in the yard, who has the time or energy to clean and maintain garden tools? They’re just going to get dirty again the next day or week, right? But quality garden tools are an investment and taking care of them can maximize their performance and lifespan (and save you a lot of money over the years!). Ideally, garden tools will be cleaned and oiled at the end of the gardening season in the fall. But we can’t always live up to ideals. So if you forgot to give your gardening tools some TLC in the fall, here’s what you can do now to ensure they’re ready to go as soon as all this snow melts!

For any digging tools, follow these steps:

  • Clean any built-up dirt off your shovels, spades, hoes, rakes, and any other tools that make contact with the ground. You can do this by spraying them with water or, if dirt is quite built up, by soaking them in a bucket of water. Wipe the metal parts of the tools dry once the dirt is removed.
  • We recommend using a good wire brush to remove any rust spots. Sandpaper or a small electric sander can help with any spots that are particularly difficult to remove.
  • If your tools have wooden handles, you may want to sand them once a year to keep the handles smooth and easy to grip. Any sandpaper should do the trick, but we usually use 80 grit.
  • Next, you’ll want to sharpen your tools so they’ll cut into the soil more easily. Use a metal file like this one to sharpen the edges of your digging tools. Run the file over the front and back of the blade a few times. Be very careful while doing this — if you have a vise to hold the tool still while you work, use it. If you’ve never done this before, we like this video from GrowVeg, which shows you how to use the file properly.
  • Finally, oil the tool, both the metal and wood parts. Oiling the metal part of your tools will help prevent rust — the oil acts as a barrier between the metal of your tool and the oxygen and water that can cause rust. Oiling the wood parts will prevent the wood from drying out and cracking. You can use any vegetable-based oil, such as linseed, for the metal parts of your tool, and a protectant oil, such as teak, for the wooden parts of your tool. Apply the oil liberally and allow it to sit for 15-20 minutes, then wipe off any excess oil with a clean rag.

It is especially important to clean pruning tools. A clean, sharp cut will prevent the introduction or spread of any plant diseases. For pruning tools, shears, and loppers, follow these simple steps:

  • Clean your pruners after each use. Use a wire brush like the one mentioned above or, if that’s too large, a steel wool pad.
  • Wash the tools in soapy water and then dry thoroughly with a clean rag.
  • Sharpen the cutting blade of the pruners. There are lots of sharpeners available specifically for pruners, shears, and loppers, such as this one. Again, the above video from GrowVeg provides a wonderful visual aid for first-time sharpeners.
  • Finally, apply a liberal coating of lubricant like WD-40. Lubricant should be applied to tools like these throughout the season — don’t wait until spring or fall.

Follow these simple steps and your tools will last longer and make digging and cutting easier for you! We hope you found this helpful. As always, if you have any questions about garden tool maintenance, please ask our knowledgeable staff.